Seven ways to cope during hot weather

THE PUNCH Newspaper

It’s been hot for some time in several parts of the country, and even when it rains occasionally, they hardly suppress the heat. In recent times, daytime temperatures have been hovering over 30 degrees for consecutive days, a condition experts describe as a heatwave.

Besides the irritability that heat causes the body, experts say it also has some health implications. Heat can result in dehydration (loss of water from the body), heat exhaustion, and illnesses ranging from mild ones such as heat cramps to severe or life-threatening conditions such as heat stroke.

When the heat becomes intense, it can make symptoms worse for people who already have heart-related or breathing problems.

Cardiomyopathy, a charity based in the United Kingdom, says this is because when the weather is hot, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the surface of the skin to assist with sweating to cool the body. The organisation says this can sometimes increase the work of the heart.

The National Health Service of the UK says a heatwave – a prolonged period of abnormally hot weather – can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are older people, especially those over 75.

Others are those who are bedridden, in care homes, people who have serious or long-term illnesses – including heart or lung conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or some mental health conditions.

Among those also vulnerable are babies, those with drug or alcohol addictions or people who spend a lot of time outside or in hot places – for example, those who live in a top floor flat, the homeless or those whose jobs are outdoors.

Some researchers also say pregnant or breastfeeding women may be at risk. The World Health Organisation says heatstroke is a medical emergency, leading to rapid death in 10 per cent to 50 per cent of cases and poor outcomes in a high proportion of survivors.

Generally, heat-related illnesses occur when heat gain is greater than heat loss, meaning when heat gain from the environment or metabolic processes cannot be effectively dissipated through physiological or behavioural thermo-regulatory processes.

So in these times of hot weather, it is necessary to take steps that can help one feel reduced irritation and prevent one from suffering from heat-related illnesses.

Stay hydrated

This is perhaps the best tip to survive a heatwave. According to scientists, sweating is the body’s mechanism for self-cooling and plenty of water is needed to give the body something to work with. Recommendations vary between drinking two to four glasses of water every hour in excessive heat. As a matter of fact, do not wait until you are thirsty to hydrate your body.

Besides water, cardiomyopathy says one can also take other cold drinks regularly, such as fruit juice. However, in hot weather, it is advised to avoid excessive alcohol, coffee, tea, coffee, or drinks high in sugar. You may need to carry a reusable water bottle so you don’t run out of water as you go about your daily activities.

Pay attention to what you eat

Diet affects how you can manage your body’s response to high temperatures. You should eat less salty foods because they produce metabolic heat that causes your body to lose water. Instead, eat more fruits and vegetables and smaller, frequent meals.

Foods with high water content such as strawberries, cucumber, lettuce, celery and melon can also help you stay hydrated. Then, try to avoid large, heavy meals laden with carbohydrates and protein because they take more digesting, which in turn produces more body heat.

Engage in indoor activities

Do not go for too many outdoor activities during this period, particularly during the hottest part of the day. Note that the sun’s peak hours are generally between 11 am and 4 pm. The idea is to avoid as much direct sunlight as possible.

In other words, if you’re experiencing unusually high temperatures in your area, try to keep your activity levels low for the first few days and let your body acclimatise.

If you need to travel around, try to do it when the weather is at its coolest: early or late in the day.

Also, if you chose to exercise in heatwaves, listen to your body – it will be under greater strain than in usual conditions, so your usual limits may be different.

If you do intensive exercise, drink lots of water. Isotonic sports drinks can also help ensure you are rehydrating properly.

In general, stay in the shade or in air-conditioned places as much as possible, especially at the hottest part of the day.

Also, use your air-conditioner or fans. Cooling a room is easier and cheaper than cooling the whole house. Cool your bedroom two or three hours before bedtime, and open windows for ventilation in the evening when it’s cooler. If you don’t have an air-conditioner, arrange to go to a cool place and leave as early as possible to avoid travelling in the heat.

Wear loose and light-coloured clothes

This is definitely not the period to wear dark-coloured clothes – unless you are going to be in a space that has air-conditioners. Even at that, you may find it impossible to be in such a space for the whole day. So, wear clothes that are loose-fitting, lightweight and light-coloured because they do not attract much heat. Also, you can wear a hat for protection from direct sunlight.

Light-coloured clothes are better because dark-coloured ones absorb more of the light, converting it into heat. Loose garments are also the real deal because they can allow air to get into the body.

Hats with ventilation will help and fabric choice is key – materials like cotton and linen are more breathable, absorbing sweat and encouraging ventilation.

Meanwhile, avoid the temptation to strip off because of heat. This is because you may be at greater risk of sunburn, which can affect your body’s ability to cool itself.

At night, also go for lightweight materials for bedding and nightwear as they can help you keep cool. Sleeping naked and avoiding sharing space with partners are also advised.

Take cool showers or baths

According to researchers, regular cool showers or baths can help bring down the body temperature. This is advisable to do during this period. Also, applying cold, wet towels on the neck, wrist, groin and armpit areas can help a lot to stem the effects of heat.

A health scientist at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, Dr Shubhayu Saha, says keeping body parts such as the neck, wrist, armpit and groin cool is necessary to survive a heatwave.

“When these parts of the body with a high concentration of blood vessels near the skin come in contact with the cold, it helps to transfer heat out of the body,” he says.

Keep your room cool

Ensure you keep your room cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this is not possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (Notes: Metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).

Also, close windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day and open them at night when the temperature has dropped.

Don’t leave children or pets in hot car

The sun’s radiation heats objects that it strikes, such as a dark dashboard or seat, warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.

In a report, General Motors and the San Francisco State University say that it takes just about two minutes for a car to go from a safe temperature to an unsafe 94.3 degrees and can even reach temperatures of over 200 degrees. This is risky for children or pets left in a car.

According to the Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at Seattle Children’s, Dr Tony Woodward, children’s bodies produce heat faster than adults’ do. Unfortunately, children cannot get rid of heat as quickly as adults because they don’t sweat as much as the latter do. Tips for keeping children cool and safe include the ones above such as wearing them lightweight clothes and giving them lots of water to drink.

Know the signs, treatments of heat-related illnesses

Experts say if you or someone else feels unwell with a high temperature during hot weather, it may be heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Some of the signs to look out for are headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, excessive perspiration, cool moist skin, muscle aches, paleness, dizziness, and tendency to faint.

Other signs include rapid and weak pulse, as well as rapid and shallow respiration.

Specifically, for someone with heat fatigue, the signs are cool moist skin, a weakened pulse and feeling faint.

Someone with heat cramps may experience muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs after exercise.

Heat exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. Watch out for thirst, giddiness, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination, nausea, profuse sweating, cold or clammy skin. Body temperature may be normal but the pulse is normal or raised slightly. Passing urine may decrease and vomiting may occur.

When it comes to heatstroke, it is a serious condition and immediate medical attention is required. In this condition, the body temperature rises, the person becomes confused, behaves bizarrely, feels faint, and staggers. Pulse is rapid, skin is dry and flushed and may feel hot. There is a lack of sweating, and breathing may be fast and shallow.

If one notices the above symptoms, the following are recommended:

*Resting in a cool area and loosening tight clothing

*Cooling the body down (such as with wet towels)

*Cooling down the environment or moving to an air-conditioned place

*Drinking small sips of water or another cool refreshment

*Monitoring the condition. If the condition worsens, such as with vomiting, decreased alertness or disorientation – get immediate medical help.

*The above also applies to when helping to alleviate the condition of someone with a heat-related illness. You should have the person lie down in a cool place, elevate their feet, cool them with a handheld fan, and apply cool wet cloths or water to their skin.

*Lastly, don’t forget to reach out to those you know are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Elderly people living alone are at a higher risk of being harmed in hot weather.

So during heatwave, you may want to visit the elderly and pay attention to them so as not to develop signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.


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